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Networking vital, says youth pastor

March 17, 2003|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

More and more congregations are seeing the need to add youth pastors to their staffs as a way to attract and keep young people interested in church.

But as Jason Kelley, pastor of youth and family ministries at Christ Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, knows, just filling the pews with bodies isn't the goal.

It's their hearts, minds and souls he's after.

"I'll do anything to save someone for Christ," said Kelley, 34. He said he has worked in full-time youth ministry for 10 years but his roots go back even further.

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"When I was 14 years old, I was teaching the class with the 13-year-olds," Kelley said. "It's just in me."

A Southern Baptist by heritage, Kelley grew up in Pittsburgh. He went to college in Charlotte, N.C., Utah and Alaska. His wife, Michelle, was in the active military, serving in the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

"My last church was in Washington State," Kelley said. After 10 years, Kelley's wife left the military with the rank of lieutenant commander. They have settled in this area with their three children, ages 7, 6 and 3.

During his early months at Christ Lutheran, Kelley has not only been exploring his role at the church but reaching out to other youth pastors in the area.

"Youth leaders are often mavericks," Kelley said. "But I believe that networking is the key."

His initial efforts have been encouraging. Kelley already has started to form a partnership with a number of his contemporaries.

"While I don't believe in event-oriented youth ministry, we do need to pool our resources," Kelley said. But most of all, churches need to reach young people in their language.

Words that kids can understand, coupled with music that reaches their ears and their hearts, go a long way toward getting young people in the doors.

Raymond Shriver, pastor of the church at 316 N. Cleveland Ave., said he and the congregation are thrilled with the spark that Kelley has ignited at the church.

"A whole segment of the congregation will be just taking off," Shriver said.

One of the things Kelley has been asked to do is reach out to children in the church's neighborhood, Shriver said. "After all, the people of the neighborhood built this church in the first place."

A church-sponsored survey soon will identify how much interest there still is in the neighborhood, Shriver said.

All are welcome and none will be turned away, both men said.

"If we can get them in the door, the Lord can clean them up," Kelley said.

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